Cheffing, Adam West, Irish college, and the further commodification of my own grief

Column for the Indo last Wednesday, in which I slowly peel away the mask of terrible comedy to reveal the raging emo sea within.

 

They used to say too many cooks spoil the broth. Sadly it seems that broth of any description may soon be off the menu, as the Restaurant Association Of Ireland informs us that we are now short about 5,000 chefs. It seems hard to understand why more young people wouldn’t want to join an industry that elevates icons like Gordon Ramsay, who have shown that the best way to make great food is to scream swear words into a person’s face for 15 minutes, then use their tears to baste a turkey.

Cheffing is a brutal grind; for those who simply love food, it is a vocation – many great chefs have that innate, creative skill to blend flavours, much like the rat in Ratatouille. However, for people like me, it was the only job we could get. After dropping out of an Arts degree to pursue my true passion – drinking cans – I ended up meandering into a job in a kitchen. I spent two and a half years burning pots, smoking fags and drinking heavily, and while the kitchen I worked in was fantastic, with a wonderful head chef, it was still an awful job. There is little point in the RAI trying to encourage young people into an industry that offers low wages, appalling hours and the chance you might be stuck under a head chef that makes Ramsay look like Bugs Bunny. Until the conditions of working in a kitchen are improved, it will remain a catchphrase for endurance, and many will decide, as I did, that they simply cannot take the heat.

Speaking of wasted youth, the passing of Adam West brought back many memories of the kapows and kablammos of Saturday morning TV in the 1980s. For many he was their childhood hero, unless of course they had the misfortune of reading Burt Ward’s memoirs, Boy Wonder: My Life In Tights. There are few things sadder than badly written filth, but Ward’s book is some of the lousiest erotica you will ever encounter. Playing on the style of the show (‘HOLY PRIAPISM!!’ Being one good example), it has the worst use of alliteration this side of a Leaving Cert English essay. The book details Ward and West’s exploits as they engage in the sort of shenanigans that would make Motley Crue blush – but Ward also finds plenty of space for complaining about West upstaging him, claiming that his co-star’s laconic delivery was designed to simply ensure that he was on screen more. West’s suitably cool rebuttal of claims that he was stealing the limelight and placing himself centre stage was to dryly ask “What was the name of the show again? Oh that’s right, it was Batman”.

Irish college season is here again, and with it comes memories of my own forays into Dead Language Zones of Ireland. One of my best memories is of our college standing to attention, singing the national anthem in front of the Tricolour in the main square. As we did, an elderly gentleman cycled past, and as we earnestly mumbled patriotic noises, he shouted ‘sieg heil’, cackled at us, and cycled off down the road. It was about the only thing I remembered from my three summers spent there, as after that I promptly failed Irish in the Inter Cert. In fact, the only lesson I took from my brief encounters with our native tongue was that it was even harder to get the shift via Irish. Úfásach ar fad, as Bosco would say, although I still have no idea what that means.

My grandfather used to tell my dad a story. One day, he and his buddies were down town, when across the street they saw a contemporary of theirs, pushing a buggy. They guffawed at what they believed to be the craziest thing they had ever seen – the very notion of it, a man pushing a buggy. My grandfather’s generation had a more Victorian mindset when it came to family life – children were women’s work. My dad, however, was different. He swam against the tide of his own sad history, and as I face into my first Father’s Day without him, I marvel at who he was. As I crashed headlong through life, he was always there for me – when I failed the Inter Cert, scraped through the Leaving, dropped out of college, slumped into dead-end jobs, or even told him I was expecting a baby with my girlfriend of six months (now my wife of 11 years) he never stopped believing in me. All my tiny triumphs were celebrated as though I had conquered the world, and a few column inches like these would be whisked off to the print shop to be photocopied and dispatched to relatives all over Ireland. He was unfailingly proud, even I went on TV to talk about getting a vasectomy.

In the nine months since he passed away I have struggled to rationalise the loss. The warming smugness of my atheism provides little comfort, as I try to convince myself that this is simply the circle of life – not even a thoughtful narration by David Attenborough could make my journey through grief more bearable. I am still trying to figure out a way to say all this on a headstone, how to sum up the endless love and support I received into a few pithy words. He overcame the culture of his times; he grew up with a father, but I grew up with a dad.

Now that I have inherited two decades worth of the Father’s Day gifts I gave him, I realise that aftershaves, socks, scarves, and books on the GAA are of little consequence, and that time together is the only gift any parent really wants…until the grandkids start screaming, then it’s time to leave.

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